Exciting Times – Virtually!

By Chris Ault

Chris Ault photoIt's an exciting time for embedded virtualization at Wind River!  We were recently named the embedded virtualization market leader by VDC Research Group.  In VDC’s 2011 ‘Virtualization for Mobile and Embedded Systems’ report, Wind River achieved the highest share of the market in 2010 with greater than 30 percent of total market revenue.

In addition to this significant recognition, today we announced updates to our embedded virtualization offering. We released updates to our guest operating systems – VxWorks and Wind River Linux, as well as updates to Wind River Hypervisor and Wind River Workbench tools.

Why such fanfare? This synchronized release of integrated products and tools represents a unique advantage for developers working on embracing or developing targets based on embedded virtualization.

Some of the challenges developers face when working on virtualized embedded targets is the need to symbolically debug multiple operating systems. Yes, GDB is a great debugger, but it cannot be used for debugging the virtualization layer of the embedded target. It doesn’t have insight into the multi-OS communication constructs or shared memory regions on the target.

And development tools transcend debugging: developers need to be able to create system images that now contain multiple operating systems while retaining the ability to explicitly dictate the memory ranges, sizes, and the placement of the virtual machines within the physical memory range. I’ve written in the past that proper device Configuration is Key to Success with embedded targets. Having the ability to graphically view the hardware devices, and actually see the allocation among the virtual machines before the target image is built is a HUGE, in terms of speed of development and debugging.

Hypervisor Image 

Demonstrating our continued commitment to offer broad and complete hardware support, we have added ARM Cortex-A9 to Wind River Hypervisor's already extensive list of supported cpu architectures and hardware platforms.  This is particularly compelling for those developing small low-power controllers for example. Having the ability to support a virtualization layer on such small devices can yield very innovative designs and products, allowing for existing designs to remain intact while new functionality is partitioned and separated, but can be developed in a much more agile environment.

Another significant advance brought to the market in this release is an internal Ethernet switch. With such a switch, virtual machines internal to the device can communicate amongst themselves using standards-based protocols and drivers, greatly reducing development burden and time. But beyond that, in a world of increasing security concerns, imagine having the ability to embed a firewall or intrusion detection appliance directly within the device that is controlling the robotic assembler on the factory floor! Or directly within the set-top box hosting multi-media applications! This can greatly reduce costs in external networking gear while increasing device security. An internal Ethernet switch provides the ability to create multiple internal isolated networks, using standard protocols, and connect a subset of networks or virtual machines to external networks.

In this manner, it’s easy to connect a VxWorks virtual machine to a Windows 7 virtual machine. This allows manufacturers to retain the real-time characteristics of the VxWorks application and provide a graphics-rich Human-Machine Interface front-end to devices through a Windows 7 virtual machine.

I could go on and on, but I will reserve further discussion on the benefits brought by this release, and in embedded virtualization in general, to further blog postings. In the meantime, be sure to check out the product launch page for more information.